Mammoth task of uncovering corruption

IF it took the Flood Tribunal almost four years to determine the purpose of three separate payments to just one politician, Ray Burke, how long will it need to examine allegations that Frank Dunlop alone paid out almost £300,000 to dozens of councillors in the early 1990s?

The sheer volume of material the tribunal’s legal team has amassed from private interviews with developers and over 100 past and present members of Dublin County Council should ensure the Ray Burke modules will retrospectively come to be regarded as just the appetiser for the main course. Mr Dunlop’s unexpected, whistle-blowing performance at the tribunal in April 2000 has laid the groundwork for much of the tribunal’s work away from the public glare over the past 18 months.

As such, Mr Dunlop’s eagerly-awaited evidence to the inquiry threatens to expose a web of corruption at the heart of planning in Dublin County Council over the past two decades.

Although much public attention was given to Mr Dunlop's initial disclosure that he had paid a total of £112,000 to members of the local authority to secure planning permission for the controversial shopping centre development at Quarryvale (now Liffey Valley), it was in essence only a fraction of the whole picture.

A further revelation by Mr Dunlop a month later suggested that he had paid a total of £184,000 to councillors in attempts to secure votes on 14 other developments with a difficult planning history. According to Mr Dunlop, the money was paid over by developers in the period 1990-93 when Dublin County Council was considering rezoning motions on the 1993 draft development plan for the area.

Although the names of the individual projects were not given at hearings in Dublin Castle, the identity of many are well-known at this stage. Drawn together, they cover large tracts of suburban Dublin stretching from the county’s border with Wicklow, across to Lucan and Clondalkin in west Dublin and over to seven large developments on the city’s northside.

Chief amongst these is 100 acres of lands at Carrickmines in south Dublin, which were owned by Paisley Park, an offshore company who gave Mr Dunlop £25,000. The development is the focus of the tribunal’s current strand of public hearings which are due to resume in late November.

The identity of eight out of the nine councillors listed by Mr Dunlop as having received sums ranging from £1,000 to £5,000 have now been made public. They include Senator Don Lydon (FF) and the late Tom Hand (FG) who proposed a motion to rezone the land which was defeated 26-24 in 1993.

It has also been established the founders of the former industrial holding company, the Jones Group, brothers Christopher and the late Gerry Jones, also provided £17,500 to Mr Dunlop for planning purposes.

They owned a 77-acre farm at Ballycullen, in the foothills of the Dublin mountains, which was rezoned for a 360-house project, despite the fact that local planners said there was no justification for such a development. The vote, which was passed 42-14, was also proposed by Cllr Hand and Senator Lydon.

Mr Dunlop has described the developers as “relatively innocent” businessmen frustrated by several previous failures to get their land rezoned.

The PR consultant has also admitted requesting a total of £30,000 in cheques from a leading Dublin building firm, Tiernan Homes, between 1991 and 1992, when the rezoning of 54 acres of land at Finnstown in west Lucan was under consideration.

The sum paid by the company’s owner, Joe Tiernan, was the largest single contribution of any developer. Another businessman with strong cross-party, political connections, who successfully obtained rezoning for a project close to Dublin Airport, paid £10,000 to Mr Dunlop. The PR consultant received £10,000 from another developer who completed a separate building project in the same area following a controversial, if successful, rezoning.

Mr Dunlop also claims to have been introduced to several other projects by Liam Lawlor, whom he alleges was a sleeping partner in the Paisley Park/Jackson Way development. However, Mr Lawlor has denied he had any beneficial interest in the Carrickmines lands owned by these companies.

Although much of the public’s curiosity will dwell on the identity of the public representatives in receipt of Mr Dunlop’s payments, the names of the developers who provided the funding for such largesse should also warrant much attention.

Don’t be too surprised if it ultimately leads to the naming of several, well-known businessmen with major political links.

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